Decomposition is a natural process where dead animals and plant tissue are broken down and/or rotted. This is usually carried out by invertebrates, like worms, but also include fungi and bacteria. This process provides the essential link in the circle of life. During this process the decomposer, worms in our case, eat the dead and decaying organic matter, they use what they eat for energy and in return they produce a waste that becomes part of the soil and helps create nutrient rich soil. Plants can take up these rich nutrients in their roots, thus naturally recycling the original dead organic matter.
There are two main types of earthworms, some like night crawlers are not very good decomposers, but are good at digging holes and aerating the soil, which is essential to soil health. Then there are other worms, like the ones I use in my compost bin, red worms, who are expert eaters. They are great at breaking down dead and decaying organic matter making them a great decomposer.
What happens in the worm composting bin is mimicking what would happen naturally outside in the soil. The indoor worm composting bin creates a controlled and managable environment, making them very suitable for urban dewellers with small spaces and no outdoor access.
What to expect: We start off with a plastic bin and a lid with air holes. All worms need air to survive. We add worms, red worms because they are the expert decomposer. In addition to the worms, we add a layer of shredded moist brown paper bags or newspaper on top to provide a comfortable, moist, and dark environment for the worms. All worms need to live in a moist environment because they breath through their skin, it is important to make sure the bedding is always moist. In addition to using the bedding for moisture worms also eat tiny bits of the paper, over time you will need to replace the paper as it is consumed.
Worm life cycle and anatomy: Worms live and die in the bin, they reproduce as well as decompose the worms that die. I have never personally seen a dead worm, I believe they break down very quickly. I have seen plenty of worm cocoons and baby worms. It is expected that over time the number of worms in your bin would increase.
On average, a pound of worms (approx. 1000 worms) can eat half a pound of food in a day. This is under ideal conditions. A bin might be healthy, but maybe not perfectly ideal, so the amount of food that a worm can eat fluctuates even weekly. The best method is to feed the worms, when that food is almost gone feed them some more.
Worms have no eyes, they can sense light and dark through their skin. They are sexual hermaphrodites, which means they have both male and female reproductive organs but it takes two worms to reproduce. Two sexually mature worms will get together and rub their clitella together (the fatty band around their body) and will pass each other sperm. Afterwards both worms will produce and egg cocoon that will eventually hatch about 3-5 baby worms.
As we already know worms are decomposers, they eat dead and decaying matter. In our case worms will eat our left food scraps turning them into compost. All worms have a tiny mouth that protrude from the head of their body, they have no teeth but they are able to remove tiny particles. Once the worm has ingested the food particle it goes into their gizzard. A worm’s gizzard works very similarly to a chicken’s gizzard, the worm fills the muscular pouch with small grains of sand that are used to grind up the food particles for digestion. After digestion the worm will excret any unused nutrients and wastes, which comes out as compost, or nutrient rich soil.